Art gallery? yes. Historic site? yes too. Museum? also yes. Creativity, food and drink? name one name all. If not ‘Last Tango in Halifax’ it has to be the ultimate resort of not necessarily silver movers and shakers.
Dean Clough Mills was an industrial complex built for the manufacture of Crossley carpets and has been restored for contemporary arts and cultural use by 53 Degrees North, an award-winning firm of architects. Two buildings in the complex relate to their name. The well-known Northern Broadsides theatre company is based there; a permanent collection of art includes a David Hockney and two pencil portraits of him by a fellow student at Bradford School of Art. Contemporary painters and sculptors have studios on site and there are arts and cookery courses available.
A bonus is somewhere comfortable to sleep at a modest price. Like its fellow within sight of Kings Cross station in Grays Inn Road, this looks nothing like your common or garden Travelodge. Stone walls may not make it a castle but its beds are far more comfortable than a castle tends to offer. Triple glazing would enhance the comfort, as a nearby viaduct reverberates with passing traffic. The Travelodge breakfast pack, as opposed to the buffet in other places, is a drawback that can easily be overcome by a short walk to the nearby Engine Room cafe. Evening meals are available at modest prices in two contrasting restaurants, the Mill and Ricci’s Tapas and Ciccetti, next door and a step beyond.
Our first meal was at Ricci’s: a variety of Spanish- or Italian-style starters can be followed by tapas or main courses and delicious desserts. Wine is not unreasonable in price and well chosen. We began with grilled tomato on toast and anchovies on toast. Our main was roast suckling pig with a phenomenal crackling, and for dessert one had creme brulee with rhubarb in two ways and the other tried semolina cake with pear and creme fraiche. It was an extra treat to be inside at the bar then and watching the blowtorch at work on the cream. As the menu main dish comes without vegetable we chose fried potato slivers (posh chips, but they tasted delicious). Oddly, the day’s specials include vegetables and didn’t seem any more expensive than our choice.
If you find young people’s music hard to take, be sure to sit at an outside table and hope for a warm evening. The young of Halifax seem to thrive on talking to each other over background noise of Glastonbury scale. At least it keeps them off the mobile, as southern youth prefers.
Our second meal was at the Mill. This is an unpretentious pizza place, if you look at the menu, but there are alternatives. We chose the sharing board for two. These come as meaty, vegetarian or both. The ‘both’ that we had included olives, a chilli hummus, caramelized onions and a vegetable variant, several good cheeses and a range of tapas meats with a warm garlic bread to share. We ordered extra bread on recommendation, not realising Yorkshire appetites are big-country scale, but managed to eat just over half of it. The dessert was mill mess, a variation on Eton mess that would have stopped the Bullingdon Club in its tracks. The fruit was blueberry and cultivated blackberry in a juice that probably owed something to the trademark vodka of the Mill cocktails. Wine here is slightly cheaper than Ricci’s but also well chosen. There is also a craft beer selection that can be served on a tasting board. A blackboard offers the choice with alcohol content and price.
Music was more 1950s than modern, and less intrusive on the girls’ night out tables between us and the bar. It was the first time I’ve ever known Elvis upstaged. Service is very attentive without being obsequious; at Ricci’s it was a little on the casual side.
If Indian food appeals, there is a third restaurant at the other end of the site, beyond the art centre. It shares accommodation with a cocktail bar and deli. A second cocktail bar is in the 53 Degrees building.
The Engine Room more than compensates for pre-packed breakfast. They do a full English or Yorkshire variants, a delicious porridge, toast and marmalade or jam plus a number of other options, with tea or coffee and all at ridiculous low prices. When we went there was a charity sale taking place in aid of the local children’s hospice.
We hope to see Northern Broadsides in Bury St Edmunds, so passed by to the art centre and an exhibition of sculpture plus the permanent collection. Appropriately for the head office of the former carpet mill its entrance hall – no exaggeration – has a mosaic floor. In one room is what is already perhaps the largest Lego building in the world that is some way from completion as a scale model of the entire complex.
It was our second visit and we will certainly return.